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Five Ways to Stand Out in a Competitive Nursing Job Market

How to Get Noticed in a Crowded Nursing Job MarketDiscussions surrounding the topic of nursing shortages have been circulating for decades. While there is a plethora of data supporting the idea that the United States is heading towards a deficit of nurses, some nurses are currently scratching their heads.

After months of searching for a job, many nurses – new graduates and experienced nurses alike – have been unsuccessful in their quest. In fact, CNN featured a handful of these nurses in a story entitled, “I Can’t Find a Nursing Job.” Many nursing professionals are asking:  If there is such a nursing shortage, why can’t I secure a job?

The answer is as complex and dynamic as the healthcare profession itself, with many factors influencing the nursing profession. Some experts believe that the problem is not related to a shortage of nurses, but rather to an uneven distribution of nurses in certain geographical regions or specialties. While some areas have a plentiful supply of nurses, other areas are affected by the shortage more acutely.

Utilizing data from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, Georgetown University recently posted this infographic, exploring projections of state-specific supply and demand for nurses.

For some organizations, it is not a lack of nurses applying for jobs, but a lack of sufficiently trained nurses. Finding qualified candidates is challenging for some units, as training new staff is incredibly time-consuming and expensive. While some departments are willing to hire new nurses, research shows that the knowledge gap between new nurses and experienced nurses is vast. Having too many younger, inexperienced nurses on one unit is unsafe for patient care.

A 2015 article in Comstock’s discusses these issues, as well as the challenges that new nurses face in the job market. The report reveals that it’s not uncommon for recent graduates to wait over six months to land a nursing job in a hospital. Further, while many new nurses are unemployed, others have relocated to states with less competition.

While all nurses want to stand out in their job application process, this becomes particularly important in a competitive job market. If you are living in one of the geographical areas that are more competitive, such as Massachusetts, New York, or Washington DC, you may need to find a way to stand out from your colleagues.

Whether you are a brand new graduate or an experienced nurse, here are five ways to stand out in any job market:

  1. Network, Network, Network

The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” applies to nursing as well. It is estimated that 70-80% of jobs are never advertised, but are instead filled through networking. There are several ways for nurses to utilize networking to find a job.

Perhaps one of the best ways to network is to join a professional nursing organization in your area. In addition to staying current in the nursing field and having access to continued education, professional organizations attract leaders in nursing. As a result, you are likely to meet nursing professionals that are well connected. While your end goal is to find a job, you may find that you can identify an invaluable mentor along the way.

Another excellent networking technique involves utilizing your nursing school network. Most schools and universities have an alumni association. By reaching out directly to those who share your alma mater, you automatically have a connection. People love to give advice and assistance to others on their path.

Finally, don’t discount social media, such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the largest online professional network in the world. Keep your LinkedIn profile active and professional, and utilize it to connect with like-minded career professionals in your area. Even Facebook can be used positively as a networking tool.

  1. Rock the Cover Letter

To stand out from other nurses in your field, you must write a cover letter. First of all, the very presence of a cover letter speaks to your desire for a new job and your attention to detail. Additionally, while a resume is fact-based, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to let your personality shine.

Your cover letter may be your one-and-only chance to stand out against many other nurses with similar skill-sets. According to one nurse recruiter, “Out of 150 people that applied, only 50 had a cover letter. It’s really important to do your homework by reading the hospital’s website and articulate in the cover letter how you will make a difference at our hospital.”

Keep in mind, however, that a cover letter is worthless if it is an impersonalized form letter. Stay away from any standard template and be certain to illustrate that you have done your research about the organization and the job that you are seeking.

  1. Buy a Stamp and Use Snail Mail

In this day and age, electronic mail is the predominant form of communication. However, how many times have you opened an e-mail, only to be distracted by a phone call or other event? How many times have e-mails been lost or forgotten, especially if you are receiving a high volume of them?

To stand out from your competition, consider printing your resume and cover letter on nice paper and sending it in the mail. Your written signature may provide just the personalized touch that sets you apart from your competition. The hiring manager may still get distracted when reading it, but the physical reminder will be right there on the desk when he or she returns.

While a paper resume will help you to stand out, it is still a good idea to send an electronic copy. It may come in handy when processing your job offer!

  1. Outreach to the Hiring Manager Directly

It’s important to keep in mind that the hiring managers are the decision-makers. Those in human resources are the gatekeepers to hundreds of resumes. In many organizations, the recruiters are not nurses. While they may be well-versed and trained in health care lingo, they may not have the medical expertise to appreciate what you have to offer and to sell your skills to the hiring managers.

This is not to say that you should bypass HR altogether, especially if you are disregarding organizational systems. It’s important that you submit your resume through the appropriate required channels. However, if possible, find a personalized link to the hiring manager and reach out directly. Sending your resume with a short note such as, “My friend Kelly worked as a nurse in the hospital and recommended that I reach out to you.”

If you are able to gain access to the hiring manager, use the opportunity to express your interest in the unit. One way to do this is to request to shadow someone on the unit. Even if a job is not currently available, some managers will allow nurses to follow a fellow-nurse for a day to get a feel for the unit. Use this opportunity to get potential face time with the manager, meet fellow nurses, and to determine if that specialty is the right one for you.

  1. Highlight Your Customer Service Skills

With the advent of HCAHPS and hospital reimbursement being tied to patient satisfaction, more and more organizations are focusing on customer service. While your nursing skills are still imperative, highlighting any customer service experience that you have may cause your resume to stand out from the rest.

Even you are a relatively new graduate, discuss your previous customer service work experience and explain how those acquired skills apply to nursing. Many nursing skills are mechanical and can be easily taught. However, it’s very challenging, if not impossible, to train someone to have excellent bedside manner, compassion, and empathy. Illustrating to a hiring manager that you are dedicated to patient-centered care will go a long way.

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About Sheramy Tsai

Sheramy Tsai is a registered nurse and freelance writer. She holds a BA from Middlebury College and a BSN from the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. Throughout her career she has worked in various nursing specialties and most recently managed a Post Anesthesia Care Unit at a large teaching hospital. Prior to becoming a nurse, Sheramy was a successful recruiter for WinterWyman in the Boston area. When she’s not busy with her blended family of five children, she takes the time to pursue her passion for all things related to natural health and wellness.
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